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Adland’s leaders admit to suffering from imposter syndrome

Adland’s leaders suffer “massively” from imposter syndrome, with BMF’s executive planning director Christina Aventi admitting she has “a lot of inner voices in [her] head that [she’s] not proud of”.

Speaking during the Shit Real Leaders Say session at Mumbrella360, Optus’ director of brand and communications Melissa Hopkins told the audience: “I suffer massively from imposter syndrome. There’s this view that you are this leader and you’re awesome and you’ve got all this confidence and everybody looks up to you all the time.”

Russell Howcroft, Antony Wilson, Melissa Hopkins, Helen Fitzpatrick, and Christina Aventi (L-R)

Hopkins explained how there are many days when she gets out of bed and feels like she’s winging it, and that she’s “going to get found out”.

“I think that’s actually real in leadership, and I’ve found as I’ve got more senior, there are plenty of people in the C-suite that feel that regularly. Unfortunately no one talks about it.”

BMF’s Aventi agreed with Hopkins, admitting: “I’m a recovering impostor. When we talk about fears, being found out is one of my fears.

“I have a lot of inner voices in my head that I’m not proud of,” she added. “The way I manage that is I talk myself down from the ledge. You’ve got to acknowledge them as a leader.”

The occasional Gruen panellist stressed how important it is for leaders to acknowledge and face up to the thought that they might hire the person who will one day take their job. “I have a Sydney mortgage and that can manifest as feeling threatened,” she quipped.

“It’s not about shit real leaders say, it’s about shit real leaders think. It’s not about denying those thoughts, it’s about acknowledging them and not acting on them. If you want to be authentic, you have those dark thoughts.”

Admitting to failure is a key ingredient in a successful leader, according to PwC’s chief creative officer Russell Howcroft, who was also on the panel.

“Publicly blame yourself,” he said. “Get your team together and say: ‘This is what I did wrong, we lost that X, this is what I did wrong.’ That then allows the conversation to bear fruit from what other people did wrong, but first and foremost, you’ve got to own it.

“You’ve got to own failure. It’s just smart. You didn’t win, so there’s got to be a reason why you didn’t win. Probably the leadership.”

Aventi concluded by sharing the best advice she’s been given: “Take all the time you spend questioning yourself, and put it somewhere else.”

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